US Ship Reaches Kenya Minus Kidnapped Captain

By: Elizabeth A. Kennedy and Katharine Houreld AP
By: Elizabeth A. Kennedy and Katharine Houreld AP

MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) - Cheering and guarded by Navy Seals, the
crew of an American ship reached a Kenyan port Saturday evening
without their captain, still held hostage by Somali pirates in a lifeboat hundreds of miles from shore.

Even as the Maersk Alabama pulled into port, the crew of an Italian-flagged tugboat was being held by pirates who seized it in a new attack.

When asked by a journalist how it felt to arrive in Kenya, a member of the 19 remaining crew who did not give his name said it was "terrifying and exciting at the same time." Asked about his captain, he said: "He's a hero."

"He saved our lives," another crew member said.

A couple of the sailors cheered when the ship pulled up to the dock. Armed Navy Seals could be seen walking on the deck of the ship, carrying coils of rope.

Capt. Richard Phillips, 53, of Underhill, Vermont, was seized Wednesday when he thwarted the takeover of the 17,000-ton U.S.-flagged ship, which was carrying food aid for hungry people in Somalia, Rwanda and Uganda. He told his crew to lock themselves in
a cabin, crew members told stateside relatives.

Phillips surrendered himself to safeguard his men. The crew later overpowered some of the pirates but the Somalis fled with the captain to an enclosed lifeboat, the relatives said.

Journalists were being kept back by a screen of shipping containers put in place to keep them out on order of authorities, and were not allowed near the ship.

The Italian tugboat was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia's northern coast as it was pulling barges, said Shona Lowe, a spokeswoman at NATO's Northwood maritime command center. The two
hijackings did not take place near each other and it was unclear whether they were related.

The Foreign Ministry in Rome confirmed 10 of the 16 crew members are Italian. The crew members also include five Romanians and one Croatian, according to Micoperi, the Italian maritime services company that owns the ship.

"We received an e-mail from the ship saying 'We are being attacked by pirates,' and after that, nothing," Silvio Bartolotti, the owner of the company, told The Associated Press.

Piracy along the anarchic and impoverished Somali coast, the longest in Africa, has risen in recent years.

Somali pirates have been seizing ships with many hostages and anchoring it near shore, where they have quickly escaped to land and begun negotiations for multimillion-dollar ransoms.

They hold about a dozen ships with more than 200 crew members, according to the International Maritime Bureau, a piracy watchdog
group based in Malaysia. The bureau lists 66 attacks since January,
not including the Alabama.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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